To the show’s credit, Night Gallery enjoyed a pair of Primetime Emmy Awards (one in 1971 and again in 1972 in different categories). While the program didn’t win, series creator Serling himself took home a 1970 Edgar Allen Poe ‘Special Edgar’ trophy for bringing the program to life, another much deserved nod toward the quality recognized in the man’s ongoing legacy at the time.
Recently, I had the good fortune of receiving a complimentary Blu-ray copy of Night Gallery: Season 03, and I wanted to spend some time reviewing a handful of the episodes for interested readers.
Today’s installment: The Return Of The Sorcerer was the third season’s season opener, a thirty-minute chiller starring Horror icon Vincent Price, TV’s popular Bill Bixby, and Tisha Sterling.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the episode’s IMDB.com citation page:
“Sorcerer John Carnby recruits young Noel Evans to translate an incomplete Arabic source book whose most fiendish passages involve being flayed over burning coals and slowly dismembered.”
Far be it from me to look to deeply into Night Gallery’s third season premiere, but – if I’m being perfectly honest – it’s a bit of a stinker. This isn’t to say that it’s deficient in any one way in particular; rather, there’s a general silliness to the entire affair, one that might make audiences legitimately question just what the source material looked like before ending up as it did in this curious edit. IMDB.com credits the script first as a story from author Clark Ashton Smith, a name that in some circles appears synonymous with pulp masters Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. Wikipedia.org states that Smith’s catalogue boasts entries in poetry and prose across the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. Halsted Welles is credited with the screenplay, and – as is almost always the case with Serling’s programs – Rod himself is given ‘uncredited’ on the draft.
As for the story, Carnby (Price) is hellbent on finding a translator for some elusive text, though I’ll admit there’s no clear explanation for his central demand. Instead, there are suggestions that it’s all tied back to a family curse (watch closely, and you’ll see Vincent appear in more than one role here) along with perhaps a jilted love affair with the fetching Fern (Sterling). Noel Evans (Bixby) agrees with a bit too relative ease to continue the work vacated by previous experts, and he even succumbs to Fern’s affections despite the script providing absolutely zero foundation (and credibility) for their apparent tryst … unless, of course, it’s all magic to begin with.
But as the action unfolds, The Return Of The Sorcerer grows ever more opaque.
There’s a bit more lunacy, and yet I don’t feel the need to underscore further how these antics serve to distract more than they endear an audience to the one-dimensional premise. Sadly, this Sorcerer is all atmosphere and no substance, much like the unexplained fog filling the Carnby mansion. Given Price and Bixby’s pedigree, I think it’s safe to say that I expected a bit more from this thirty-minute excursion into the dark arts, but it’s all far too muddled for my tastes. Granted, I’m a full-blooded American male, so I enjoyed watching Sterling for her slim contribution here: while she’s fabulous to look at, I can’t help but wonder what all of her curious ramblings may’ve been about.
Night Gallery: Season 03 (1972-1973) was produced by Universal Television. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the good people at Kino Lorber. As for the technical specifications? Though I’m not trained video expert, I found the sights and sounds of this episode to be particularly solid.
If you’re a fan of Price, then perhaps The Return Of The Sorcerer might, at best, qualify as a guilty pleasure. If you’ve read the above, you’ll know that I didn’t find it all that interesting, much less good, but – as a talent – I suspect only Vincent could’ve accomplished what little he did here and make it palatable. Bixby – a known commodity – is a bit wasted in a role that never quite develops, and the end result is a mixed bag of tricks that evokes only a passing visual flourish of a show that deserved a much stronger entry for its third (and final) season.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Kino Lorber provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of Night Gallery: Season 03 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.